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Constipation and bloating

Posted 5 years ago by Brendan

These symptoms often go hand in hand. In this post I want to explore the type of bloating caused by constipation - as opposed to other causes described on this site such as menstruation, food intolerances, stress and so on.  

By not emptying the bowel regularly, leftover waste from the digestive process is forced to build up in the colon (click here to read more on general digestive health). This build up of waste and trapped gas is a common cause of bloating; particuarly in the lower abdomen.  In fact, abdominal bloating is often the most frequently reported complaint in addition to constipation’s characteristic features of infrequent bowel movements and changes in stool consistency [1]. To read more about bloating, click here.

Constipation

Bowel movement frequency can vary greatly from one healthy person to the next. As such, opinions regarding what is ‘normal’ in terms of how often one should visit the loo also vary, ranging from three bowel movements each day to just a few each week. However, most people generally consider one per day or thereabouts to be ‘regular’. Bearing in mind defecation is one the body's main routes of eliminating wastes and toxins (just think about what happens if rubbish is left to build up for too long!), regular bowel movements are much more favourable than if they are less frequent.   

It's worth noting that the term constipation also refers to a reduction in what is considered normal (or usual) for that individual. So for example, for someone accustomed to having one bowel movement every other day to suddenly having just one in a week, this is considered constipation. 

Stool formation also varies with some healthy people prone to loose or soft stools while for others, larger, firmer stools are normal. With constipation there is often difficulty passing stools that have been forced to build up becoming large, dry and excessively hard in the colon. To pass these often requires effort (straining), which can damage the delicate lining of the anus causing bleeding and other problems such as haemorrhoids and diverticulitis. Incomplete evacuation or a feeling as if the bowel has not been completely emptied, is also common.

Symptoms, causes and contributing factors 

Bowel movements are heavily influenced by dietary and lifestyle factors, with dietary changes, stress, travel and so on, all cabable of producing varying degrees of either constipation or diarrhoea. Constipation affects young and old and most of us will experience some degree of it from time to time. When it becomes ongoing or chronic a variety of additional symptoms often develop including abdominal bloating (click here to read more about what causes this), fullness, hardness and pain; nausea; stomach cramps; irritability; headaches; rectal discomfort; loss of appetite; and a general feeling of sluggishness.

The most common factors that contribute to constipation include:

  • Insufficient dietary fibre (to read more about fibre click here)
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of physical activity (exercise helps promote peristalsis and bowel function)
  • Ignoring the urge to defecate when it arises

However it can also be associated with:

  • Stress (click here for more on how stress can affect the digestion)
  • Drug side-effects (opiates, antacids, antidepressants, etc)
  • Pregnancy
  • Diverticulitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (for more on IBS click here)
  • Dysbiosis or disturbances in the gut flora (click here for more on good and bad bacteria)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Aging
  • Benign strictures
  • Colon cancer

Constipation and bloating

Chances are if you experience bloating you’re also familiar with constipation. The constipated bowel provides an ideal environment for ‘bad’ bacterial activity to produce excessive gases, which when unable to escape, can contribute to bloating and discomfort (to read more about flatulence click here). Similarly, many of the causes of bloating will also contribute to constipation. What many sufferers of these common complaints don’t generally realise, is that digestive symptoms like these are often indications that the normal digestive process is disturbed. 

Managing digestive symptoms

Those with constipation are commonly encouraged to drink plenty of water; eat healthily and have smaller, more regular meals (for more on healthy eating click here); get enough dietary fibre; exercise regularly; avoid diuretics such as tea or coffee; and manage stress. I'm sure that you will find these considerations will also help to reduce and avoid bloating considerably. Many of the natural remedies commonly used to manage bloating can also be of great benefit to those with constipation. For a list of handy natural remedies, click here

So if you have both symptoms, try to remember your digestive system is telling you something isn’t quite right. Given a little attention and with some simple changes, both of these digestive complaints (and most others) can often be corrected.

If you feel that your problem is primarily constipation, take a look at www.constipationexperts.co.uk.

References
Kyle, G., 2011, "Constipation: review of managment and treatment", Journal of Community Nursing, 25(6):30. 
Kyle, G., 2011, "Constipation: symptoms, assessment and treatment", British Journal of Nursing, 30(22):1432.  
PubMed Health - A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, 2011, "Constipation" - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0003612/

If you’ve had or have bloating and constipation tell us about it here...

About Brendan O'Loughlin

Brendan is a integrative naturopath, nutritionist and yoga teacher. He has completed training in Naturopathy, Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Yoga, Iridology and Live Blood Analysis.

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